Discreet Wealth Signals and Quiet Status Symbols tell the truth about class tropes
Fashion is social currency. Perhaps this is why its conspicuous and frivolous consumption by the idle rich has always been a tricky endeavor. It incites criticism and anger, admiration and aspiration, global trend and pop music lyrics. While luxury fashion has perfected the loud signal and ways a simple logo immediately messages comfortable wealth, the industry has also (always) embraced the exclusivity of discretion. Subtle affluence is nothing new, but the widening wealth gap has sparked a modern crop of low key goods that communicate status solely to those in the know. Discreet wealth signals and quiet status symbols tell the truth about class tropes: unlike on-screen, flashy and opulent depictions in film and television, wealth often hides in plain sight. Discretion has surpassed recognizable logo-clad pieces as the new demand and storytellers who work with these tropes should pay close attention.
As Wharton professor and author Jonah Berger explains in his book “Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces that Shape Behavior“, social influence isn’t just about imitation and doing what we see others do. In some instances “we avoid particular choices or behaviors because other people are doing them.” The more that middle class and the working poor seek and consume loud signals of wealth, the more ultra-high net worth individuals will pay to obtain subtle signals.
In an interview with Business Insider, Berger divulged his findings about status symbols and pricing:
“As expected, the cheaper the product, the less the brand was identified; as price increased, branding became more prominent. But as price further increased, branding became less prominent again. For example, of 10 sunglasses ranging between $100 and $300 that Berger and Ward studied, the majority featured visible logos — but only a few out of 10 $500-plus sunglasses had a brand name or logo on them.
For every $5,000 increase in price, the logo shrinks by a centimeter — luxury items with less prominent logos are more expensive, according to Berger.”
This is certainly true of everything from Bottega Veneta’s $9,500 Large Basket Tote in Intreccio Rete to even make do and mend brands that offer exclusive lifetime mending services to their illustrious patrons. BV has mastered the art of a distinctive weave on their coveted bags, but to the untrained eye it blends with a similar version from H&M. There’s no flashy logo pattern or big golden plate on this bag, just that elegant weave that warrants a near 5-figure price tag.
Discreet wealth is the new status symbol and with billionaires inching ever closer to becoming trillionaires, it’s likely to remain this way whenever people gather in public. The goal is to be rich, not look rich. This means wealth is actually about how you spend it and increase it, how you invest in your time/body/mind/socializing/experiences and the signals you choose to display for others. If depictions of wealth on screen want to keep up, they’d best take note and apply accordingly.